Brain scanner, not joystick, is in human-robot future

Jul 06, 2012 by Nancy Owano report

(Phys.org) -- Talk about fMRI may not be entirely familiar to many people, but that could change with new events that are highlighting efforts to link up humans and machines. fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a promising technology that can help human move beyond joysticks to control robots via brain scanners instead. Now a research project exploring ways to develop robot surrogates with whom humans can interact has turned a corner. A university student‘s ability to make his robot surrogate move around, using fMRI technology, was successful. The experiment linked up Israeli student Tirosh Shapira in a lab at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, with a small robot in another lab far away at Beziers Technology Institute in France.

The research is part of an international project called Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-Embodiment (VERE).

Shapira merely had to think about moving his arms or legs and the robot, with a camera on its head with an image displayed in front of Shapira, successfully would do the same. If Shapira thought about moving forward or backward, the robot responded accordingly.

fmri monitors blood flowing through the and can spot when areas associated with certain actions, such as movement, are in use. The fMRI read the student’s thoughts, which were translated via computer into commands relayed across the Internet to the robot in France.

There is much more work to be done to advance this approach, however. The researchers seek to devise a different type of scanning. An fMRI scanner is an expensive piece of equipment but the scientists believe that improvements in software might allow for a head-mounted device. Another research goal is to see if they can get humans to speak via the robot. The size of the robot will need modification, closer to the size and movement of a human, and engineered with a wider range of movement that would include hand gestures. In sum, according to the researchers, this experiment is only one of many steps ahead.

Medical applications for this technology are seen as promising, especially as scientists explore how patients with paralysis can interface with robots so that the patients can reconnect to the world. Another suggested application has been in the military, where surrogates rather than soldiers would be sent into battle.

Explore further: Brain-training for baseball robot

More information:
via BBC

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Ventilator
5 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2012
How many here recall cyberpunk movies, stories and RPG's of all types?

Bladerunner, Ghost in the Shell, Cyberpunk 2020...

The list goes on. This should prove to be interesting...
kpyogaraajan
1 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2012
i am watching your news create very very good
GSwift7
2.7 / 5 (3) Jul 06, 2012
How many here recall cyberpunk movies, stories and RPG's of all types?

Bladerunner, Ghost in the Shell, Cyberpunk 2020...

The list goes on. This should prove to be interesting...


Compare 50 years ago to today, then expect just as much change in the next 25 years from now. Things unimagined will be common. It is inevitable.

However, couple of fun things to ponder:

With a device like the one above, I assume you would build in a safety cutoff that detects when the operator is sleeping (and therefore possibly dreaming?). With a mind-controlled prosthetic limb, dream controlled movement could be BAD.

Another one:

The mind adapts to rewire around nerve damage in certain cases, as my brain did when the nerves in the top of my fore-arm were permanently damaged. My brain eventually figured out how to open my hand through other means. With enough time controlling a robot, surely the brain would adapt into it as well.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 06, 2012
continued:

If the brain can adapt to fit the robot it is controlling, then the part in the above story where they say they need to create robots that more closely resemble the human body isn't really needed. Perhaps, given enough time, your brain could learn to control something very different from your original body and still feel natural. Feedback in the opposite direction, from the robot to the brain is probably an essential part of ultimate success though. The brain needs some kind of feedback I would guess, if you really want it to feel natural as opposed to using a joystick or something.
Ventilator
1 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2012
This is exactly what Ghost in the Shell presumed for their cybernetics.

Basically, when any given human brain pilots a cyborg body, the issue of not receiving feedback as to physical stress levels resulted in the main character of the series literally breaking both of her cyborg arms apart. She pushed so hard as to render her arms useless after this effort.

So, while feedback is something to look into, consider this: feedback generated by searching the net in GITS also results in viruses, or attack barriers, capable of frying the living mind due to the cyberbrain bridge that can come with a cyborg, or just having a net capable assist along in the skull.

Food for thought.
Vendicar_Decarian
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 06, 2012
Thank God for Government funded Science. Where would the world be without it?

cyberCMDR
Jul 06, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
cyberCMDR
3.8 / 5 (4) Jul 06, 2012
BTW Vendicar, these universities were outside the US, funded under the European Seventh Framework Program. The rest of the world is doing advanced research now, while US funding for research has flatlined or is dropping.
Vendicar_Decarian
5 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2012
cyberCMDR is quite correct.
Skultch
5 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2012
I'm an American and I couldn't care less which group discovers/invents whatever thing. I always gloss over the people/group citations. It just doesn't matter to me. I'm also a veteran, so you'd think I would be more patriotic/nationalistic. Nope. I Am disappointed in the US drop off. We aren't pulling the same weight we used to. I blame our neo-conservative attempts at equating opinion with fact. I think they do it to artificially prop up their religious dogma to be on par with actual knowledge that is growing and nudging them out of relevance. Oh well. The desperate and confused be silly people.
randith
1 / 5 (1) Jul 07, 2012
I can think about moving my arm without actually moving it. Would there be a way to differentiate between these two types of thinking when controlling a robot?

TL;DR: In other words, would the controller be able to consider a command without actually giving it?
Eikka
4 / 5 (2) Jul 07, 2012
Compare 50 years ago to today, then expect just as much change in the next 25 years from now. Things unimagined will be common. It is inevitable.


50 years ago was 1962. Almost everything we have now was beginning to be a reality back then. For example, the foundations of the internet and the way we use computers today: (1968) http://en.wikiped...ll_Demos

People often underestimate the progress of the next 20 years, and grossly overestimate the next 50 years. Now even more so with the singularity woo woo people going on about accelerating acceleration without an inkling of thought about realities in getting something off the laboratory table and into a real product in the real world.
SteveL
3.5 / 5 (2) Jul 07, 2012
While the military applications are obvious, mining and other hazardous activities could also benefit, including space applications as long as the loop response between thought, action and feedback aren't too great.

I'd tend to think that the blood flow mentioned in the article is in response to the electrochemical thought. This would mean a built-in hysteresis lag due to blood flow responding as an effect of the cellular demand for energy from that thought. Eventually we would need to close this gap with direct reading of the mental signal. Once this level of ability is reached the applications could be nearly limitless, because all that would be needed is a brain and its hardware as required for a specific application.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Jul 07, 2012
While the military applications are obvious, mining and other hazardous activities could also benefit, including space applications as long as the loop response between thought, action and feedback aren't too great.


It doesn't work exactly as you might imagine. The demonstrations I have seen all work on the principle that a person sits with the sensor cap on, and physically moves an arm or a leg, or turns their head left and right, nods, or performs any motor activity. Then they merely think about doing the same activity, which activates the same pattern in the brain.

Then the computer records the pattern created by the activity, and is taught to associate certain patterns with certain tasks. The difficulty is that the computer doesn't know the difference between real actions and commands, so the person can't be distracted while they're operating the system.

You kinda have to sit there and go "I would lift my arm... I would lift my leg..."
Sanescience
not rated yet Jul 08, 2012
Indeed the future. There is much the human body is not designed to do. There will be a time soon when people walk into their office, plug in and work via their virtual presence anywhere on the world, or on the Moon. Software will also let well understood environments be modeled and allow for lag free manipulations until something is encountered that is unexpected. Much like modern video games.
trekgeek1
4.5 / 5 (2) Jul 08, 2012
People often underestimate the progress of the next 20 years, and grossly overestimate the next 50 years.


I believe it is quite the opposite. I think people overestimate the near future and don't see the radical changes in the distant future. For instance a movie in 1990 having a person 5 years in the future using a video payphone. That never happened, but in 20 years we have mobile phones that can do face chat and access the internet, take pictures, etc.

Accelerating returns is not nonsense. Plot the technological progress of any field and you will see that most are much greater than linear. Let us use a different century for retrospect. I would claim progress occurred much more quickly in the 20th century than the 19th. I think the 19th saw more than the 18th, and so on.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2012
With a device like the one above, I assume you would build in a safety cutoff that detects when the operator is sleeping (and therefore possibly dreaming?)
You'd probably need much more than that. That is one of the problems that has also hounded line-of-sight controlled devices: The gaze tends to wander (as does the mind). It's very hard to differentiate between intentional look/gesture/thought and idle ones. Even in fMRI
The brain needs some kind of feedback I would guess

I think this is very important. Maybe simple visual feedback (at first) will suffice. Some haptic feedback mapped onto a body part could help (like some scanners for the blind use a haptic mat on the abdomen to 'stencil on' what the scanner sees). The brain is wonderfully plastic that way and can rewire to interpret stimuli accordingly.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2012
I Am disappointed in the US drop off. We aren't pulling the same weight we used to.

It's just the rest of the world catching up. That's nothing to be ashamed of. (Though US research efforts could use a few hundred billion dollars that now go to the military)

as long as the loop response between thought, action and feedback aren't too great.

Funny story: While I was working on haptics another group I was aware of (in the US) was trying out haptic interactions over the internet (simultaneous operations on a virtual liver). The aim was to check out the lag issues with haptic devices - which are much more severe than visual lag (visual system needs 18-24 images pre second. Haptics need 1000 feedback impulses per second to feel smooth).

The upshot was that one operator almost broke the (real) arm of another operator 2000 miles away because he pushed on the 'liver' and the differently calibrated device of the other guy jerked back with enormous force.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Jul 09, 2012
I Am disappointed in the US drop off. We aren't pulling the same weight we used to.


http://en.wikiped...spending

That's absurd. The US is still top dog in research, several times over. Our closest competitor in research spending is China, but they only spend about 1/3 what we do. There's a list on Wiki if you care to take a look. They show it as percent of GDP also, but that's meaningless. It's actual dollars that count, because dollars are what draw tallent. The guy with the thickest checkbook will get the best people. Period.

I wonder why people always think of Universities though. Government labs and private coporations do most of the real work. Even when a university is doing research, it's not uncommon for them to be partnered with private money. My brother did aerodynamic research at Old Dominion funded by NASCAR, for example.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2012
It's just the rest of the world catching up. That's nothing to be ashamed of. (Though US research efforts could use a few hundred billion dollars that now go to the military)


lol, the military probably accounts for more than half of US research spending. If the federal government takes money away from the military, do you honestly think they will divert it into research in stead? You should know better than that.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2012
It's just the rest of the world catching up. That's nothing to be ashamed of. (Though US research efforts could use a few hundred billion dollars that now go to the military)


lol, the military probably accounts for more than half of US research spending. If the federal government takes money away from the military, do you honestly think they will divert it into research in stead? You should know better than that.

The number of people who have anti-US and anti-military views amazes me. That kind of view only demonstrates a lack of understanding and failure to educate themselves before forming opinions.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2012
I meant to say the military accounts for over half of US government research spending. Private spending far excedes all public research though.

Here's a recent article:

http://www.rdmag....lerates/

Wow, here's the money quote:

The U.S., European Union (EU), and Asia continue to be the strongest regions for R&D, with a combined total of nearly 92% of all global spending. R&D growth in emerging economies has lowered the U.S. share of global funding to about 31%, although the U.S. remains dominant in absolute terms, and annual increases in U.S. R&D still exceed the total budgets of most countries


annual increases in US R&D still exceeds the total budgets of most countries. That's insane.
SteveL
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
annual increases in US R&D still exceeds the total budgets of most countries. That's insane.
Most of the present 196 countries are considered "developing", they won't have much of a budget. Since Guatamala basically falls in the middle of the national budgets at 98th place with a $5 billion (USD) national budget it's not too insane to bet that we invest more than that in US R&D (~$126 Billion USD). Looking it up, as of 2011 the US spends more on R&D than 86.7% (rounded) of all national budgets.
antialias_physorg
2 / 5 (1) Jul 10, 2012
the military probably accounts for more than half of US research spending. If the federal government takes money away from the military, do you honestly think they will divert it into research in stead?

I see no chance of money going away from the military budget for any reason. It's just a too convenient cash and carry store for too many people. They do a lot of research - but compared to the money they're getting it's very little. One plane less could have kept the Tevatron going for another 10 years - and they're ordering these planes by the hundreds.

So. Meh.

The number of people who have anti-US and anti-military views amazes me.

I have both - but for different reasons. I just can't get it through my head that a nation that isn't - and has never been - under threat (not even during the cold war) spends such a lot of money on killing machines (and that low ethics idiots sign up to operate them by the hundreds of thousands).
dougie_fresh_007
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
as a quadriplegic i find all these types of things interesting the question lies in what fruits will become or will it prove in reality fruitless. however the militaries of the world are all mostly likely to be interested also so im sure funding and researchers will come to have something soon,now if we the people also benefit is another question
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2012
Here's a somewhat scary sci-fi thought:

If you extend this to its natural conclusion, it may be possible to not only read simple thoughts like body motion, but perhaps more complex things like emotions, memories, ideas, etc. Then there's also the posibility to read them from a distance. Combine those two things and you can imagine the various forms of abuse such a system could lead to.

If such a thing ever becomes possible, then what would you get from reading the toughts of an animal?

Even more alarming; if you can read thoughts, can you write them too?

Pandora's box, surely. Thankfully, not in our lifetime.
SteveL
not rated yet Jul 11, 2012
I have both - but for different reasons. I just can't get it through my head that a nation that isn't - and has never been - under threat (not even during the cold war) spends such a lot of money on killing machines (and that low ethics idiots sign up to operate them by the hundreds of thousands).
Never been under threat, really? I suppose it's only fair that citizens of other countries know as little about American history as Americans tend to know about the history of other countries.

I was one of those "low ethic idiots" who signed up to become a nuclear missile technician on a submarine. The theory is that if you know the other guy can put you in the hurt locker, you won't mess with him too much. Granted; not the most civilized concept, but it worked. The fact is that my children didn't have to hide under their desks and practice bomb drills like I had to - to me that was worth it.
Skultch
not rated yet Jul 11, 2012
I'm glad to hear that my casual understanding of US R&D productivity is incorrect. Thanks for that!

antialias_physorg,

...killing machines (and that low ethics idiots sign up to operate them by the hundreds of thousands)


That's simplistic and insulting to honorable people. You are better than that. I agree with your opinion on the government's ridiculously high defense budget, but when you attack the integrity of my fellow veterans, you are letting your emotions override your logic. I thought you were more careful and deliberate than that. True patriots exist. Hundreds of thousands of low ethics idiots? At that number, you are talking about Every US soldier. For one, I have neither low ethics nor am I an idiot.

They worshipped strength, because it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive.
- Han, Enter the Dragon

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